Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Kinshasa on the Potomac

Yes, folks, your nation's capital IS in fact a 3rd world nation. We've had some rain and the whole city falls apart. Metro has been a disaster with many and long delays - one of the downtown stations flooded - and they can't seem to get it together.

Last night, coming home around 8pm, Metro first gave no info, then told us to switch sides to go in my home direction, only to switch us back to the regular side. The next available train was, of course, packed. It took me approx 45 minutes to get home. But that was nothing. On Monday, it took me 2 hours to get to work when it usually takes 30 minutes door-to-door.

Drivers fared no better - obscenely slow traffic conditions, poor-to-no drainage of rain.

Statehood? Folks, DC can't even handle a little rain.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Book Reviews Galore, Part 2

Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues, by Frank Ryan, MD. The book details various epidemics and outbreaks, the known or proposed vectors thereof and efforts of healthcare authorities (local, federal-CDC, and worldwide-WHO) to stop the spread and treat the victims. The topic is right down my alley, but I must say, this was 2/3 of a good book. I enjoyed the epidemiological discussions & the sleuthing aspect of them. I liked the discussion of co-evolution of species – namely that of some diseases and their hosts – to explain micro-outbreaks (e.g., Ebola) in other species and why some species don’t appear to be affected. Also, explaining why some germ hasn’t wiped out our species yet. What I didn’t like was Dr. Ryan’s P.C. treatment of HIV/AIDS and his goofy descriptions of the epidemiological players (researchers, physicians, etc.) – really gaack. He could have cut down the length of the text some too – at times he just went on and on with the tracking down of a virus in nauseating detail, and I just wanted him to come the punchline. I think Dr. Ryan was trying too hard to make the subject matter accessible for the layman, and it wasn’t altogether necessary. That said, for anyone who enjoys reading virus-hunter type stuff, it’s an interesting read.

I read Prey, by Michael Crichton, right after Virus X, and oddly enough, had an interesting connection to X. I’ll get to that. Prey is essentially one of those race to the finish, running out of time to save whomever type books. It’s about a very next-level artificial intelligence experiment and how it got away from its creators. The connection to Virus X was that in discussing the development of behavior in this artificial intelligence, the book made reference to co-evolution and viruses – how cool is that? Also it discussed “emergent behavior” in a programmed entity (or entities) that might follow anticipated activities, but might just surprise the heck out of you. I found it both a good page-turner, metro-appropriate entertainment, yet I learned a few things too.

For a very different read, try The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. It’s a bittersweet story of a teenage girl in the civil rights-era South, trying to deal with the mysterious circumstances surrounding her mother’s death. It also deals with personal (as opposed to prescribed) and very interesting interpretations of religion and faith. It also involves a wonderful assortment of characters who this girl encounters on her path to understanding…stuff.

Blowing My Cover – My Life As A CIA Spy, by Lindsay Moran, was a quick, cheap ($6.50) read that we discussed at Book Club (B/C). It details Ms. Moran’s initial attraction to, training for, and ultimate disillusionment with The Company. The author comes across, I’m sorry to say, as a na├»ve, Peace Corps flaky (redundant?) lefty, who for some reason feels compelled to join the CIA. Well, she believes herself drawn to lying and travel, so she must be perfect for intelligence work! All that said, her observations of the dysfunctional and in various ways outdated (Cold War, anyone?) agency do ring true to someone acquainted with such bureaucracies.

In our B/C, we’ve read a bunch of books that deal with Islam in various aspects and countries. The last one we read was a novel called The Swallows of Kabul, by Yasmina Khadra (a pseudonym – the author is an Algerian army officer). Can I just mention how glad I am to be an American, especially seeing as how I’m a woman? Ok, just thought I’d bring that up. The story is set in Taliban-tormented Kabul. No one is having a good time. Khadra brings it home that life is so depressing and ghastly, so soul-sucking under this regime, that no one in his right mind would volunteer for this “life.” The book involves the lives of several characters – male and female – and how they overlap and intersect. Yes, this book is depressing, but well-written and well-paced, so that you finish it quickly, discuss it with your free compatriots & toast that freedom immediately.

Another in this genre, if you will, is Minaret, by Leila Aboulela (hope I haven’t already reviewed this book here), which we also read for Book Club. It’s about a well-off Sudanese woman who immigrates with her family to Great Britain after a change in government involves the execution of her father. This young woman is university educated, speaks fluent English and very capable, has a mom and relatives who are also educated, and very liberal by Moslem standards, but…that’s really where the story begins. I really enjoyed this book and as a B/C selection is really a stronger choice than Swallows of Kabul. In fact, this last Friday evening, the book came up at dinner with a fellow B/C member and friend – months after we discussed it at B/C – and we had a really good secondary discussion about it. Indicating to both of us, that this was a really good book because it had so many layers and elements to pick apart, if you will. Read it with your own B/C or with a friend and see if it doesn’t provoke some quality discussion and reaction to the characters.

Whew! Ok, that’s it for my book reviews today, but…I’m currently reading Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci’s The Force of Reason. Review to come! Hizzah!

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If you don't want the answer, don't ask the question

So, I'm laying peacefully, blissfully poolside in the sunshine, when the twenty-something beside me asks if I mind if he smokes. I said honestly, "I prefer you didn't." He replies, "Well, what if I just hold it over here (towards his buddy, who doesn't mind), to which I reply "I guess so."

Now, if you planned on taking the action anyway, regardless of my response, why did you bother asking me? You didn't care about my feelings on the matter. And therefore, that whole charade has nothing to do with courtesy or consideration, bonehead.

My feelings: it's your obnoxious habit, keep it to yourself.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Book Reviews Galore, Part 1

So, I've been reading a lot and now I'm finally getting around to reviewing them for you, dear readers. However, I'm going to have to publish them one at a time because I can't seem to get my act together (read: I regard laying out in the sun to be of higher priority than doing my book reports). But here is one...

Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes, is a delightful, if sometimes rambling account of two college professors’ purchase and subsequent renovation of an old Italian farmhouse. The wife narrates – and actually the book is a result of her journal & all the notes and recipes that went into it – and describes all the pitfalls and triumphs (both large & small) in renovating (anything) in Italy. She also describes all the wonderful food and drink that they prepare and enjoy with their guests and family there. I think that’s my favorite part – just being inspired to cook (for me that means “for Jeff to cook & me to eat”) more and enjoy those simple dishes with fabulous, fresh ingredients. And, of course, the wine. So, although the book doesn’t have a plot as such, it’s still fun to read about the couple’s travails (that would drive us absolutely crazy) and their ultimate enjoyment of their Tuscan home.

Heavy Breathing

We were reading quietly before nodding off when I heard what sounded like heavy breathing. Loud and insistent. I asked, “Jeff, do you hear that?” He said “yes, what is it?” “I don’t know – but it sounds like it’s coming from inside our apartment.” At that point, we just looked at each other – a little fearful. I knew we shouldn't have moved to the second floor - now a homicidal maniac has escaped from the "justice center" across the street and we're done for!

I jumped up and went to the kitchen, wherein the breathing was louder. It was coming from the washer/dryer cabinet. I flung open the door and – at which point the breathing sounded mechanical. “Ah-ha,” said I, ‘it’s the running dryer plus clay pots that I’ve put on top (not the metal box of tools) that’s creating this weird and spooky effect!” Whew! Hey maybe we should record that sound for Halloween!

A little lame, maybe, but this what passes for excitement in our world!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

On Manners...

...like this seems to be a hard concept for the Washington crowd to grasp. Case in point, we're (Jeff & I) trying to revitalize, along with a friend, our book club. And it's been an effort to attract people to come, but we seemed to be enjoying modest success as of late. And then, this time around, I sent a followup email to remind members of the date and time & to confirm if they were going to show. Well, I got one "oops, I'm flying in after it's already started, so I'm bagging," one who (at least) let me know ahead of time, one person I actually had to send another email to get a response, and a whole slew of others who have never even bothered to respond, period. Now, Jeff & I have hosted the last few times & our friend has volunteered for the next time. So, no worries about the meeting place (um, we couldn't be easier to get to - across the street from the metro, hello?). I've taken on the role of "club secretary" & dessiminate the information each month. The burden on members is essentially 1) let me know if you're coming (ie, indicate interest), 2) buy or borrow the modestly priced (usually around $10) book, 3) read it, 4) show up with some token food or beverage and 5) enjoy a pleasant discussion about the book while enjoying food and drink (most of which we provide). Boy, doesn't that sound taxing! You'd think we were asking for Dom Perignon and their first born.

Friends, I've tired of making effort and not having people do even the minimum courtesy of responding to emails. I've tired of this Washington (although I'm sure it's nation-wide) "college" (reads "kegger") attitude towards socializing. As in, if I don't have anything better to do, then I'll just show up. Oh, but I'll have something else scheduled that evening afterwards, so I'll keep my cell phone on and take calls during the meeting. And it'll be a huge imposition for me to bring some damn crackers, so, I'll buy some crap that no one likes to let you know that I resent having to bring anything besides my sparkling wit. Even though I'll drink your wine, eat your bread, cheese, olives, etc. Clearly, few parents are even bothering to teach basic manners anymore. Few people have any class of any kind any more. Of course, in our ever coarsening society, that's not really valued now is it?

I mean hey, our last book club (some members, any way), unceremoniously dumped us and evidently started their own little group. Mind you, they didn't convey this to us directly, we were just supposed to "catch on." I'm sure they considered their little maneuver totally acceptable behavior.

You know, I used to be careless about responding to invites, and then one day it occurred to me that people didn't have to invite me anywhere, at all - and that I should stop being a rude little infant. Clearly, many in this city haven't even gotten to that point of realization or ever will.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Is this a good trend?

In the Post today is an article about Latino immigrants and how some of them are drawn to Islam. Does anyone think this is a good trend?

They interview women for the article (although they do mention Latin men who've converted) and for them it's about devotion & respect. Respect meaning that which they supposedly receive from men when these women dress in the hijab. I think in this society it just means that you look like nun. I think for many of them, it's a way to rebel against Catholicism & be given specific parameters of behavior. Whatever, I think it's kind of creepy. I wonder why the guys are drawn to Islam?

Anyhoo, read the whole article here.